Thursday, May 10, 2007

The perfect combination

In autumn with the kids back at school I had more time for my pursuits. The Bilingual Support Group was still running once a month, alongside workshops and seminars. Gabriel was now at school five days a week and so when I met someone from an international school looking for a part-time TEFL teacher I jumped at the chance. It was once a week, teaching Asian mothers from an international school, Mont Kiara. Although they all understood some English they needed specific English; how to talk to their child’s teacher, understand a report card or talk to their child’s doctor. I prepared all the materials myself and it was a great class, with a mix of Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Korean. The only downside was that the school had an American curriculum and I often had to ‘translate’ my worksheets into American English and spellings.

At the same time the bi-monthly cooking group needed a leader. I was asked to do it and did so with pleasure. It was a simple matter of arranging two cooking sessions per month, with a variety of cuisine. We all agreed to do ‘Ladies Night Out’ at least once a semester. There was a great informal atmosphere with stories shared and a strong group feeling, we all loved getting dressed up and going to an outdoor bar, a typical thing to do in KL. The Anglophones swigged their beer or knocked back strong cocktails alongside Muslim or Hindu non-drinkers sipping lime-juice, showing the cultural differences of the group. The Japanese were very timid and worried about staying out late, rushing back before midnight.

Cooking group field trip to market and indian lunch

Through the cooking group I met Ikuko, a shy Japanese lady who was curious about learning some English through cooking. I noticed she found the fast cooking commentaries difficult and one evening at a party I found out she loved Japanese calligraphy. Rather cheekily I proposed to teach her English in exchange for calligraphy lessons. She agreed and so every Friday I would go to her house and we would do one hour of calligraphy, followed by a cup of green tea and then English. Often we went for lunch afterwards, or to visit a certain shop or buy supplies in Chinatown.

Ikuko had two teenage daughters, one of whom was studying in Canada, the other at the American School. Her house was so calm and quiet it was an oasis. She forbid my handphone (of which I had become addicted, like most Asians, to checking my sms’s every few minutes). Although my calligraphy work was not brilliant I loved the serene practice, the smell of the ink, the soft brushes and her guidance. My goal was a framed piece and in the end I produced a series of four characters – winter, spring, summer and autumn.

This was the perfect combination, a little art, enjoyable teaching, the diverse cooking group, and my lively Bilingual Group discussions, along with plenty of café lattes and chat with the mothers at drop-off time. I didn’t have to worry about housework and I was always there at 3pm to meet the kids and take them to activities or to play. I could easily do this for a few more years I thought….

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